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Grass fires kill 5, burn 100 homes

Associated Press
Published December 29, 2005


CROSS PLAINS, Texas - By the time the smoke cleared Wednesday, more than 100 homes across wildfire-stricken Texas and Oklahoma lay in ruins and at least five people were dead, including two women trapped in their homes by the flames.

The hardest-hit community during Tuesday's blazes was Cross Plains, a West Texas ranching and oil-and-gas town of 1,000 some 150 miles from Dallas. Cross Plains also lost about 50 homes and a church after the flames raced through grass dried out by the region's worst drought in 50 years.

Two women there were killed after being trapped in their homes, said Sparky Dean, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety. In Callisburg, near the Oklahoma line, it appears another woman fell and broke her hip and could not get out of her home before it was destroyed, firefighters said.

No information was available on the fourth death in Texas. A fifth person was killed in Oklahoma.

Patricia Cook, a special education aide, said her Cross Plains home was saved by her 18-year-old son, J.D., and a friend. They saw the flames approaching the house from across a field and ran to save it.

"The fire was literally nipping at their heels," she said. "He just picked up the hose and started watering things down."

Elsewhere on her block, the front brick wall and part of a side wall were all that were left standing of the First United Methodist Church. The steeple lay on the ground. Ten other homes on her street also were gutted.

All together, the grass fires destroyed more than 100 buildings across Texas, including 78 homes, the state emergency management agency said. About 50 homes have been destroyed in Oklahoma, authorities said.

Wind gusting to 40 mph drove the flames across nearly 20,000 acres in the two states. At least 73 blazes were reported in Texas over two days, and dozens more broke out in Oklahoma.

Fires were still smoldering Wednesday in four Texas counties. One new fire broke out Wednesday in an isolated area of eastern Oklahoma but was quickly contained.

Severe drought set the stage for the fires, which authorities think were started mostly by people shooting off fireworks, tossing cigarettes or burning trash in spite of bans imposed because of the drought.